How do we build eagerness in children?
Núcleo Santa Rosa in Barquisimeto is a núcleo noted for a nearby outdoor plaza, where children dismissed from schools crowd its tiles at 2:30 PM. When we arrived at 2:32 PM, there were already three sectionals going on under the shade of trees. I feel like the “who, what, when, where, and why” of these sectionals are random, but maybe it’s some sort of organized chaos.
After being briefed on the núcleo with the director, our group parted. The vocalists went off to observe choir, and the instrumentalists visited an extension of Núcleo Santa Rosa that serves a poorer population in a remote area of Barquisimeto.
Our van sped up a series of small hills, and we parked right outside a slaughterhouse, which was a landmark of the village. We stepped into a sandy courtyard where fifteen children sitting in plastic chairs with violins, violas, or cellos were scattered about. On the grounds was a small house.
Tatjana, Megan, Eriel, and Beverly went to work with their respective string cohorts, and I poked my nose in here and there in the house until I saw a group of children who couldn’t have been older than 6- or 7-years old hanging out through the window. Curious as to what they were doing, I hustled over to the other side of the wall.
Me (in hopefully what is grammatically correct Spanish): What are you doing?
Chicas: We are waiting for our lesson!
Me: What are you doing between now and then?
Chicas: We’re practicing!
Me: Should we play until then?
Chicas (unanimous): YES!
Within thirty seconds, eleven children rapidly mobilized themselves. In a flourish, they arranged two rows of plastic chairs in front of me. Two kids who were on the outskirts of the group grabbed their cases, found chairs, and took out their violins. Three others, having seen the others getting ready, ran up the small hill to participate. Multiple children were shushing each other. Before I knew it, I was looking out at a group of neatly seated children sitting in rest position with twinkling eyes.
Their eagerness to learn shocked me. They were empowered enough to self-organize and disciplined enough to ready themselves, without adult supervision. As a teacher, I know that it takes a certain type of culture to create an atmosphere such as this. I also know that culture isn’t just handed on a silver platter.
I simply asked the children, “Show me.” A self-assigned leader counted them off: “Un, do, tre” and the group began playing a song. It wasn’t perfect, but while I was listening, I couldn’t help but think, “How are the Venezuelan El Sistema teachers building this kind of eagerness?”
About five minutes into working together, I noticed one girl had stopped. I approached her with a smile, asked her name, and asked why she was not playing. She answered that she didn’t know the piece.
As soon as I asked for a volunteer to teach her the piece, half of the hands shot up. I randomly chose a boy sitting next to her. Here was the miraculous thing: without my saying a single word, they both moved their chairs about three meters away and began working immediately. No side conversations, no management issues. He began pointing to her fingerboard and showing her his own fingerings. This was peer mentoring at its best.
I left the núcleo with this one word lingering in my mind—eagerness. How can we cultivate such desire to learn in programs across the United States?
Sistema Fellow '14